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BBC iPlayer: Live Restart

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Henry Webster | 14:30 UK time, Tuesday, 19 June 2012

BBC iPlayer showing BBC One live - but near the end of EastEnders. The rewind button is highlighted.

Even if EastEnders has nearly finished when you start watching it online, you can press a button and watch it from the beginning

My name is Henry Webster and I’m an Executive Product Manager in Media Services at the BBC – it’s my job to deliver our live video and audio content via IP (Internet Protocol), such as to BBC iPlayer and Connected TVs.

Today marks a major step in the evolution of BBC iPlayer with the launch of 'Live Restart'.

A first in the UK, ‘Live Restart’ enables audiences to rewind and restart live TV on BBC iPlayer without waiting for the programme to end.

So, if you’re stuck in a traffic jam, or delayed on the tube and miss the critical start of your favourite BBC programme when you get in, with one click you can skip back to the beginning of that live programme.

Unlike your typical PVR, there is no need to have previously been watching or recording the show. Whenever you join, with one click, viewers can either restart the programme that they are currently watching, or scroll back to watch programmes from the previous two hours.

My team are continuously working away to deliver great innovations to audiences around video playback.

I’d like to highlight some of the work that has gone on behind the scenes to support this new way of watching television.

The technology that allows us to offer this new functionality is part of a wider strategic move to embrace HTTP chunked streaming for delivering our online video.

Instead of using a point-to-point streaming protocol such as RTMP as we have done in the past, this method breaks up the H.264 video into chunks and delivers them as HTTP packets in much the same way as the we deliver our text rich web pages today.

There are a number of reasons why we have taken this approach; firstly it allows us to scale our video operation to a much greater extent than we have been able to before.

We already use Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) to help us with video delivery, but a move to HTTP streaming means that instead of relying on their capacity to stream video from specialist video servers, we are now able to use their cheaper and more abundant HTTP serving capacity.

The increased capacity that we can realise this way means that we are more likely to be able to support the ever growing audiences that are turning to their IP connected devices to watch TV and listen to radio.

This is especially important in a year when we will be streaming more live video to more people than ever before with the Euro Football championships, Radio 1’s Hackney Weekend, Wimbledon and the London 2012 Olympics, to name but a few key events.

In turn the improvement in distribution will also allow us to make quality improvements across the board.

The use of HTTP chunked streaming has enabled us to significantly improve the video experience by utilising advancements in adaptive bitrate playback.

This means that regardless of the bandwidth available to you locally you should get a largely uninterrupted video experience offering the very best quality video your connection can support.

The live restart functionality that we are launching on the iPlayer today is typical of the cool new interactive features that we can drive using HTTP streaming.

As we can keep all the video chunks as we distribute them, we can offer them to be viewed again later, or even store them more permanently.

This has the major advantage over most PVR type products in that you don’t need to have planned your viewing in advance! If you walk in twenty minutes after the start of the latest episode of Silk, you can now with one click, jump back to the start of the programme. Try it for yourself.

To do this we have linked up the programme schedule data with a rewind-able live stream which means, where rights allow, that you should easily be able to navigate back to the start of the currently live programme, pause and resume a live stream or look back at anything that happened in the last two hours.

We are using the same behind-the-scenes technology to drive the new experiences we have in store for the Olympics in our exciting new Live Interactive Video Player. Gary Lineker can give you a quick guided tour, where you can see a sneak preview of what’s in-store for the Olympics

These innovations have touched virtually every piece of our video over IP delivery chain and the move to HTTP streaming has been a challenging one as it has required us to completely re-think our distribution platform.

I must, therefore, take this opportunity to pass on my sincere thanks to all those who helped us pull this together from within the excellent team that we have within the BBC, but also from our partners at AtoS and Adobe with whom we have worked very closely to get to grips with the new technology and in designing and building everything that we are using to roll this out as a live service.

It’s always great hear your feedback, so please try it out and let us know what you think.

Henry Webster is an Executive Product Manager in Media Services at BBC Future Media


  • Comment number 1.

    Amazing ..

  • Comment number 2.

    Good news. Will it work with all streamed TV and radio channels - eg, Radio Ulster? (PS: We're still waiting for the promised upgrade of the iOS iPlayer app that will support nations' radio stations!!)

  • Comment number 3.

    When do you plan to release iPlayer to the USA and The Bahamas (even on a subscription basis)?

  • Comment number 4.

    OK, so I must be stupid, but how do you get rid of the Restart icon?
    It just stays there overlaying the picture all the time (win7, Chrome, full screen or windowed)...

    Great idea though...

  • Comment number 5.

    Reply to dukeofearl

    I also had the Restart Icon stuck on screen at first. But when I moved the mouse pointer out of the playing area the Restart Icon faded.

  • Comment number 6.

    Wow, that's magical.

    Any plans to add a lower bandwidth option as with the rest of the iplayer?

  • Comment number 7.

    A good addition to the iPlayer.

    Are there any plans to improve the FF and RW on the iPlayer on Virgin Media? Other on demand content allows you to FF and RW normally, but on the iPlayer, the screen unhelpfully goes black and skips forward or back in 1 or 5 minute segments.

  • Comment number 8.


    The global BBC iPlayer is a separate product produced by BBC Worldwide; Henry Webster won't be able to answer questions about it.



  • Comment number 9.

    I hate to strike a negative note on what is undoubtedly a fine bit of technical wizardry, but my experience is that I'm getting an occasional rapid st-st-st-st-stutter on the audio. The stutter is rapid (in the region of 5Hz?), and is most prominent on consonants and the first syllable of a word.

    The strange thing is that the stutter is not noticeable on my Internet Explorer (IE8) but is far more noticeable on Chrome (v19). The really strange thing is that the stutter is pronounced on radio programmes, where the bandwidth requirement is far less than TV, to the extent it becomes an echo/reverb (on Chrome) and I can now only use IE for radio programmes.

    Maybe I just need some more RAM?


  • Comment number 10.

    Is this all versions or only the computer version?

  • Comment number 11.

    As others have said excellent, however can it be extended (along with full screen playback, a long term annoyance that it's not been provided up to now) to the Live player in the Desktop ASAP.
    It'd be nice to know how the implementation of this on connected devices is to be achieved. Is there to be an IPTV Live Player made available to these services too, to augment the broadcast service.
    Finally when will these streams be available in HD?

  • Comment number 12.

    Great work Henry!

  • Comment number 13.

    Can this technology be applied to subtitles? Otherwise live streams, let alone rewinding, are not much use to the Deaf.

  • Comment number 14.

    Can I just add that it wont work on computers with the time is set incorrectly, I'm sure you could fix this, it seems a bit harsh to require everyone to start using ntp (network time protocol) just for your app to work, cool work otherwise might copy some of these ideas myself :)

  • Comment number 15.

    @Ian McDonald that's great, but we've been waiting for iPlayer in the US for well over a year. We were supposed to get it last summer. In the meantime, there's been absolutely no update or way to get for information, so we're asking in the only place that is available. A little information would go a long way here.

  • Comment number 16.

    Do you have plans to roll this out on radio?

  • Comment number 17.

    I can see the advantages - a great boon to many - but the loss (as far as I can see) of the lower bandwidth option does pain me. It's the audio stream stuttering - okay - it is buffered so you don't lose anything - but it renders iplayer useless to me (even on watch again). Any chance of getting the lower bandwidth choice back: a stuttery picture is liveable with, choppy audio is not.

  • Comment number 18.

    Great new function! Well done to you and your Team

  • Comment number 19.

    Live reset doesn't seem to work with Radio 4. Matter of fact, simple rewind to where you started listening doesn't seem to work either. Plans?

  • Comment number 20.

    #19 Hugh - live reset isn't implemented for any radio yet.


  • Comment number 21.

    This is absolutely fantastic. Great work.

  • Comment number 22.

    Congratulations on the iPlayer upgrade. Now that you've moved to HTTP streaming, when can we expect to see high definition streams of BBC One HD and BBC HD on the internet? The test from Wimbledon in high definition last year was very impressive.

  • Comment number 23.

    Well, somebody certainly deserves a well-earned pat on the back. Great Stuff!!

  • Comment number 24.

    Please ignore my comment #9: my problem was coincidental with the introduction of Live Restart, but has proved to be unconnected to it. (Somehow my registry had changed my primary channel Transfer Mode to PIO instead of a DMA mode, which I have now fixed.)


  • Comment number 25.

    im not sure i really understand what this is, as i hit restart and it jumps back to the prvious program and then do it again and its at a different place, confusing
    Anyway, i now have the restart icon on my viewing screen, how do you get rid of it, most annoying.

  • Comment number 26.

    Can anyone tell me what DRM is being used to download Iplayer content for mobile devices (is it Microsofts PlayForSure DRM ?)

  • Comment number 27.

    There's a major problem with it at the moment. You can't go to the start without playing it live first.

    This is problematic in sporting events, where if I want to watch it from the start, I have to play it live, and risk seeing the result.
    Having a "play from start" option on the thumbnail would remedy this.

  • Comment number 28.

    Absolutely great, but not much use when some programmes which are on in the evening often don't make onto iPlayer until the next day. Take last night's Doctor Who for example (a very popular program for catchup I expect) - still not available on the iPad or interactive TV nearly 12 hours later! Does the person responsible for updating content go home at 19:00???


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